What exactly is poetry? Poetry is one of the oldest means of remembering and maintaining history. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to give a precise definition of poetry, but this doesn’t necessarily matter as we can have a perfect understanding of what something is without being able to define it.  Poetry itself is challenging to define as it deals with emotions.

Different English Poets have attempted to define poetry, and the definitions they have arrived at are as much as the poets themselves.

William Wordsworth defined poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings or emotions recollected in tranquility.”

Emily Dickinson said, “If I read a book and it makes my body so cold no fire ever can warm me, I know that is poetry.”

Dylan Thomas defined poetry this way: “Poetry is what makes me laugh or cry or yawn, what makes my toenails twinkle, what makes me want to do this or that or nothing.”

John Keats defined poetry as “a form of escape” as he believed that fleeing from the painful realities of life, takes refuge in a dream world of enchanting beauty and unalloyed bliss.

Robert Frost said, “Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought, and the thought has found words.”

T.S Eliot said, “Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality.”

As we can see, these are all different definitions of poetry because poetry can mean many different things to different people. It is believed that since poetry can’t be defined, it can be described, and these authors and many other poets have explained or rather described what poetry means to them.

One of the characteristics most central to the definition of poetry is its ability or unwillingness to be defined, labeled, or nailed down. It is a paint-spattered canvas, but the poet uses words instead of paint, and the canvas is you. Poetry is not old, frail, and cerebral. Poetry is stronger and fresher than you think. Poetry is imagination and will break those chains faster than you can say “Harlem Renaissance.” poetry is “a riddle wrapped in a mystery in an enigma, but perhaps there is a key”. Poetry is termed a riddle because of its condensed use of language, which is because poetry doesn’t have the luxury of space, unlike prose and drama. It takes a lot of understanding and studying to know the true meaning of a poem, and because there is still a deeper meaning to a poem, it is a mystery until its true meaning is discovered.

An ever-evolving genre, it will shirk definitions at every turn. That continual evolution keeps it alive. This is one of the reasons why it is difficult to give a fixed definition to poetry because it changes or evolves with time to remain alive or remembered. Poetry is pure imagination, as whatever the writer feels becomes poetry. Two principal elements make up poetry which are: Harmony and Rhythm. As long as there is Harmony and Rhythm in everything we do, it can be termed poetry. The writers are just the first ones to have the ‘ah-ha’ moments as they’re putting the words on the page and revising them.

“Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought, and the thought has found words.” This definition from Robert Frost is my take on what poetry is. Expressing emotions is a very important thing that we do in our lives; everyone also has a different way they express emotions. In the quote by Robert Frost, he says that he expresses his emotions through writing poetry.

As humans, how we express our emotions can either make or mar our interpersonal relationships. The most important part of expressing emotions is recognizing your feelings. For example, if a human being has been offended by words that were directed to the person in context, he/she can’t show that he has been offended without first realizing his/her emotions. That person will not profess his or her love to the person that offended him/her rather they would show that they are disgusted, angry, or hurt.

There aren’t any universal rules for the best way to communicate emotions, so because there are no rules for communicating emotions clearly, humans can express them in any way they would like. The top four ways to express emotions, according to www.psychologytoday.com are, labeling your feelings, finding the right word to describe them, and explaining the source of the feeling. Emotions are fickle. Sometimes they’re clear and brilliant: we’re happy, sad, frustrated, or angry. But emotions can also be complicated, layered, and conflicting. Sure, we’re happy, but we’re also kind of annoyed about something. We’re sad, but we also have something to be glad about. When emotions are textured and gritty, they are difficult to describe.

One of Frost’s best-loved poems, if not the best-loved, ‘Stopping by Woods’ was inspired by a real event in Frost’s life: stopping by the woods on his way home, the poet despaired that he was poor and didn’t have enough money to provide for his family, but rather than giving up he decides to fight on and ‘choose life’ rather than the tempting escape offered by the woods. Everything else is silent around them, apart from the soft wind and the slight sound of snowfall. Frost concludes by telling us that, lovely, dark, and inviting as the woods are, he has prior commitments that he must honor, so he must leave this place of peace and tranquility and continue on his journey before he can sleep for the night.

 The emotion that Frost conveys here is that of perseverance as well as that of a feeling of loyalty. Frost could have given up the moment he was in the woods because of how peaceful it was there, but he fought on. He felt determined and purposeful to fight on and not give up just. He didn’t let the fact that he didn’t have money get in his way, and he was loyal to his family. His emotions have found his thoughts, and his thoughts were put into writing in this poem.

Another good example of a poem in which emotions have found their word is ‘Death be not proud” by John Donne. The enemy being spoken about in this poem is one most people fear, but in this sonnet, the speaker essentially tells him off. The way the speaker talks to Death reveals that he is not afraid of Death and does not think that Death should be so sure of himself and so proud. The emotions in this poem are bravery and courage, as well as a sense of mockery and domination. John Donne assumes the position of the one who is to humble death. Donne feels that death shouldn’t be feared by people, which is how he skillfully put down his emotions concerning this matter into one of the greatest poems ever written. Donne leaves a powerful lesson to learn from this poem which is: confront what you fear head-on and remember that there is nothing to fear on earth if you believe in a soul.

Shakespeare uses ‘Sonnet 18’ to praise his beloved’s beauty and describe how their beauty is preferable to a summer day. There is an affectionate mood throughout this poem as the emotion that inspired it is very clear as it is that of love.

Other poems that relate to Robert Frost’s definition of poetry are ‘Daffodils’ by William Wordsworth, ‘A Psalm of life’ by Henry Wadsworth, ‘On his blindness’ by John Milton, and so much more.

Emotions are difficult to describe and understand, but Robert Frost’s definition of poetry is relatable and suitable for what exactly poetry is. Once these emotions have been realized and thought is established, these established thoughts, when put into words, can be termed poetry. Poetry is thus the feelings and emotions of the poet, whether happy, sad, anxious, remorseful, resentful, in love, frustrated or angry when put into words. The ability of a poet to pour out his emotions or feelings into writing is poetry.

 As the emotions are being put into the words, there are also effects that it has on the readers. These effects can be filled with sadness, admiration, happiness, hatred, and others, depending on the poem’s context. Reading can prompt strong emotions, which are pivotal for understanding the processes and effects of reading on learning. Poems are a form of writing that’s often rich with emotion, and they’re meant to provoke an emotional response from the reader as it promotes reading and comprehension.

Poetry is an artistic form of writing which conveys a message that other people can relate to. Different human activities can be termed poetry as long as there is a sense of harmony and rhythm. There is no precise definition of poetry, and there is no right or wrong way to write a poem. It all depends on what poetry means to the writer or poet. 

author avatar
William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

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